Already recognised on the ground as a rising star in the world of trade shows, ChemUK has now been shortlisted for a stellar award by Exhibition News. HELEN COMPSON hears what else 2021 holds for this unique expo.

ChemUK is back and, as managing director Ian Stone has been delighted to discover, the appetite for it is huge.

Scheduled to take place at Birmingham NEC on September 15 and 16, this year’s expo-cum-conference will field nigh-on 300 stands and attract somewhere in the region of 3000 – 4000 chemical industry professionals.

Providing the ultimate promotional and networking platform for businesses working in the chemicals industry, confirmation it will go ahead this year has been greeted with tremendous enthusiasm, particularly because last year’s fell in the face of Covid.

Ian said: “We have seen what is almost an enforced national – and global – social experiment over the past 12 months, when industries have been forced to adapt their normal mechanisms of communication to ascertain critical information on new products and services instead of being able to attend a trade show where everything appears effortlessly in front of them.

“ChemUK is an up to the minute ‘freeze-frame’ of where the industry is at…in its challenges, its available solutions, its leading suppliers, its crucial trends and importantly its people!…moreover a physical ‘multi-sensory ’spontaneous experience…which any ‘virtual’ would-be alternative will always struggle to emulate…”

The live trade show sector had been hit hard during the pandemic, of course, but now it was back with a vengeance and the feedback he’d had from businesses booking stands had been unanimous. “Organisations say they just cannot simulate the huge array of benefits they get from a live show through any other mechanism,” he said.

Founded by Ian and the highly experienced UK Industry Events team, in 2019, the first ChemUK took place in Harrogate. The move now to the Birmingham NEC has been driven by necessity. The event has already doubled in size and the rate of growth shows no sign of slowing, and with exhibitors and visitors set to travel from all points of the compass, Birmingham’s accessibility by road, rail and air is pivotal.

The expo is described by Ian as providing an intensive two-day supply chain sourcing, business networking, intelligence gathering, best-practice and strategy development experience, designed to introduce new relationships and strengthen existing ones throughout the intersecting layers of the UK’s chemical sector.

And for that – such is the uptake – he needs space. Lots of it! It had always been his plan, at some point in the medium term, to move to the NEC, which boasts 18 exhibition halls. It had just happened quicker than anticipated.

However, from the get-go, he’d known ChemUK had hit the mark. “Until then, the lack of a dedicated event that would unite all of the various interconnected and interdependent layers of one of the UK’s absolutely crucial industrial sectors was evident,” he said.

“The chemical industry contributes £18bn a year in added value to the UK economy at a time it is also going through profound change – two very good reasons for providing a national forum that brings together all the different elements under one huge roof.”

The ChemUK team has been assiduous in achieving representation from a real cross section of the industry’s headline trade, technical and professional bodies, embracing the industrial chemicals, formulated products and wider process sectors.

Ian said: “From the beginning they all acknowledged the value of a forum that would allow for the interchange of ideas, technologies, best practice, supply chain options and crucial intelligence between all of these national and international groups.”

Equally important was expediting networking between the industrial chemicals and the downstream formulated chemical product companies. Thanks to ChemUK, people were suddenly in the position of being able to tell their upstream suppliers exactly what their needs were, with ease.

That first year, representatives from paints, coatings, fuels, lubricants, adhesives & sealants, cosmetics & personal care, household & industrial cleaning products, pharmaceuticals and agritech – just some of the formulated products that are tied to the upstream industrial chemicals providers – began talking face to face about their future supply chain requirements which would, in turn, support their product development, product performance and regulatory compliance needs.

“There just wasn’t anything like this before ChemUK,” said Ian. “It has created the opportunity for a truly unique dynamic.”

It also presents attendees with the ‘big picture’, bringing them up to date with regard to new technology and developments. More than 120 speakers and guest panellists, drawn from all areas of the industry, are scheduled to appear at ChemUK 21.

Between them they will cover the key themes of sustainability & green chemistry, process intensification , the digitalisation of process industries, chemistry materials & process innovation, trade controls, UKREACH and chemical regulation in a post-Brexit world, chemical exporting, chemical logistics, HSE, contract manufacturing, cyber security, asset optimisation and much, much more.

Plus, there are also planned sector-specific presentations for the downstream manufacturers of adhesives & sealants, paper, paints & coatings, cosmetics, vaccines, pest control products …

“We’ve increased the number of conference stages from three to four to meet the demand for speaker slots and the sheer weight of topical issues they are keen to talk about,” said Ian.